Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Olympic Recap Part 2: Canada Owns the Podium

There’s a long history in Australia of criticising the amount of money we spend on sport – and it doesn’t look like stopping any time soon. Much of the criticism seems to come from the arts community, who – probably fairly – feel they don’t receive their portion of the funds. While I can understand their position, I think that most Australians enjoy seeing their compatriots doing well on the world stage, and I think there are plenty of worse things to be spending out money on than programs which encourage Australians to get involved in sport.

Canada felt some of this heat coming into the games – and even after – as they strived to finally win a gold medal on home soil, after coming up short in two previous home Olympic campaigns. Canada spent a lot of money in the lead up to Vancouver 2010 through their Own the Podium program, in the hope of finally having one of their citizens on top of the dais at home – and it worked.

The Canadians dominated these games, winning 14 gold medals and leaving the entire country feeling proud of their efforts. While some writers clearly dislike Canada’s new found success and national pride, I think the overwhelming joy around Vancouver and Whistler – and I’m assuming the rest of the country – on a nightly basis demonstrates all the best things about the Games.

Unfortunately the Games got off to the worst possible start when Georgian Luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili tragically died in a training accident on the morning of the Opening Ceremony, however I feel that the Georgian team, VANOC and the IOC all did a good job of honouring him during the ceremony.

That’s not to say the Opening Ceremony went on without a hitch. In a scene reminiscent of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games opening – and poor Cathy Freeman standing for what seemed like forever in water – only three of four parts of the cauldron raised out of the ground. Note to those planning future Olympic opening spectacles – stay away from anything involving hydraulics.

The search for the first home gold nearly got off to an equally embarrassing start, when Canadian – British Columbia no less – born and raised, Dale Begg-Smith, now representing Australia nearly won the men’s mogul event, before Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau snatched the title from the reigning champion, and Canada finally had their gold. It would have been mighty ironic had the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal in Canada, was not representing Canada. From a personal point of view, I may not have fared very well in the bar I was watching it from.

From that point on, it seemed the flood gates opened up, and every time you checked, Canada had won another gold. While I was pleased to see Australia break through with two golds of their own, these 17 days weren’t about Australia, it was about Canada, and as each gold rolled in, the party got bigger, and the overall feel of the place just got more and more amazing.

Of course, for all the gold that Canada won, you always knew the one they really wanted – and it wasn’t the curling. As I’ve previously noted, Canada is all about Hockey, and a gold in the Olympic men’s Hockey tournament would – rightly or wrongly – determine in a lot of peoples minds, whether this was a success Olympic campaign or not.

When Canada lost a preliminary match to their arch rivals from the USA, some people wrote them off. Others questioned certain players, like young gun Sidney Crosby. Many others however, just blindly hoped that the team could put it together. An easy victory over Germany, followed by a dominant display against powerhouse Russia and all of a sudden many of the negative statements disappeared. A shaky last few minutes against Slovakia in the semi final did nothing to quell the new Canadian belief that their team would go on to take revenge on the USA in the final and take the title.

The Gold Medal game will go down in history as one of the greatest spectacles in Olympic history, and I’m sure that Sidney Crosby goal will be replayed forever and ever.

What I’ll remember though, is the sense of intense jubilation as Canada capped the win. The party afterwards, maybe somewhat more of a blur.

The win capped an amazing games for the home team. Sure they spent a lot of money to get there, but that’s what it takes to make amazing things happen.

Canadian flags are still flying all over Vancouver, with so many here proud of their countrymen – as well they should be.

They put in the work, and they owned the podium, and what’s wrong with that?

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